Late side effects of chemotherapy
Most chemotherapy side effects are temporary and disappear once your treatment is over. But for some people chemotherapy can cause long term changes in the body. The changes may happen months or many years after the chemotherapy has finished.
Many people feel more tired than usual for a long time after chemotherapy treatment. This is most likely to happen after a lot of treatment, or very intensive treatment. For example, after high dose chemotherapy or if you are having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
After intensive treatment, you are likely to have a lower resistance to infection for quite a long time. This will gradually get back to normal, but can take some months.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause long term problems with specific body organs. For example, there are drugs that can cause heart damage or lung damage. But cancer doctors are aware of this. If you are having one of these drugs, you will have tests before and during your treatment so your doctor can keep an eye on your reaction to the drug. If you have a heart condition, there may be some chemotherapy drugs your doctor won't use. Your doctors will also check you for these effects for some years after your treatment.
A long term side effect of some drugs is a risk of getting another cancer in the future. This is called a second cancer. For your own peace of mind, it is important to remember that this is a very small risk, and only occurs with some chemotherapy drugs. Your doctor will talk to you about the specific risk with the drugs you are having. The risk of a second cancer is less of a risk to you than the cancer you are having treatment for.
There are many different chemotherapy drugs and they all have different side effects. If you are worried about long term effects from your treatment, ask your doctor or specialist nurse about the drugs you are having. We have more information about side effects of cancer drugs in the main treatment section. There is an individual page for most cancer drugs in use, with detailed information about their likely side effects. The list is in alphabetical order. You can also type the drug name in the search box at the top of any page.
The National Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) is a partnership between NHS England and Macmillan Cancer Support. They are looking at the issues people have when they finish cancer treatment, including long term side effects, so that they get the support they need to lead as healthy and active life as possible.
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